This Week in Petroleum History, December 10 to December 16

December 17, 1884 –  Fighting Oilfield Fires with Cannons

petroleum history december

In the Great Plains, frequent lightening strikes caused oil tank fires. This rare photograph is from the collection of the Kansas Oil Museum in El Dorado.

“Oil fires, like battles, are fought by artillery” was the reporter’s catchy phrase in a New England magazine article in 1884.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology published “A Thunder-Storm in the Oil Country” – a firsthand account of the problem of lightning strikes in America’s oilfields.

MIT not only reported on the fiery results of a lightning strike, but also the practice of using Civil War cannons to fight such conflagrations. Operators learned that shooting cannon balls into the base of burning tanks allowed oil to drain safely into a holding pit until the fire died out. The MIT article noted cannons were “kept at various stations throughout the region for this purpose.” Learn more in Oilfield Artillery fights Fires.

December 10, 1844 – “Coal Oil Johnny” adopted

petroleum history december

John Washington Steele

The future “Coal Oil Johnny” was adopted as an infant by Culbertson and Sarah McClintock. John Steele (adopted with his sister Permelia) was brought home to the McClintock farm on the banks of Oil Creek in Venango County, Pennsylvania.

The petroleum boom prompted by Edwin L. Drake’s discovery 15 years later – America’s first commercial oil well – would lead to the widow McClintock making a fortune in oil royalties. She left the money to Johnny when she died in 1864. At age 20, he inherited $24,500 and $2,800 a day in royalties.

“Coal Oil Johnny” Steele earned his name in 1865 after such a legendary year of extravagance that the New York Times later reported: “In his day, Steele was the greatest spender the world had ever known…he threw away $3 million ($45 million in 2013 dollars) in less than a year.” Learn about his extraordinary life in Legend of “Coal Oil Johnny.

December 10, 1955 – Life features Stella Dysart’s Uranium Well

Stella Dysart in December 1955.

Mrs. Stella Dysart spent decades fruitlessly searching for oil in New Mexico. Some questionable business dealings led to bankruptcy in the late 1930s (and serving 15 months in jail). But in 1955, a radioactive uranium sample from one of her dry holes made her a very wealthy woman.

Dysart was 78 years old when Life magazine featured her picture with the caption: “Wealthy landowner, Mrs. Stella Dysart, stands before an abandoned oil rig which she set up on her property in a long vain search for oil. Now uranium is being mined there and Mrs. Dysart, swathed in mink, gets a plump royalty.”

Just three years earlier, Dysart had been $25,000 in debt when cuttings from one of her unsuccessful wells in McKinley County showed impressive Geiger counter readings. Test wells confirmed that she owned the world’s richest deposit of high-grade uranium ore. Learn more in Mrs. Dysart’s Uranium Well.

December 10, 1967 – “Gasbuggy” tests Nuclear Fracturing

Petroleum History December

Scientists in December 1967 lowered a 29-kiloton nuclear device into a New Mexico gas well.

Government scientists detonated an underground 29-kiloton nuclear warhead about 60 miles east of Farmington, New Mexico. It was “fracking” late 1960s style, designed to test the feasibility of using nuclear explosions to stimulate release of natural gas trapped in dense shale deposits.

“Project Gasbuggy” in 1967 included experts from the Atomic Energy Commission, the Bureau of Mines and a leading natural gas company. Near three low-production natural gas wells, the team drilled to a depth of 4,240 feet and lowered a 13-foot by 18-inch diameter nuclear device into the borehole.

The experimental explosion was part a series of federal projects known as “Plowshare” created in the late 1950s to explore possible uses of nuclear devices for peaceful purposes.

The detonation created a molten glass-lined cavern 160 feet wide and 333 feet tall that collapsed within seconds. Although the well produced 295 million cubic feet of natural gas, the gas was radioactive and useless. Learn more in Project Gasbuggy tests Nuclear “Fracking.”

December 11, 1950 – Federal Offshore grows beyond Cannon Shot

After decades of controversy and a 1947 U.S. Supreme Court decision, the federal government’s “paramount rights” offshore were established beyond a three nautical mile limit – the 18th century precedent based on the theoretical maximum range of smooth-bore cannon.

The court issued a supplemental decree that prohibited any further offshore development without federal approval. The first Outer Continental Shelf lease sale held by the Bureau of Land Management and Geological Survey’s Conservation Division in 1954 earned the government almost $130 million.

Learn more in Offshore Petroleum History.

December 11, 1972 – Geologist walks on the Moon

december petroleum history

Professional geologist Harrison “Jack” Schmitt examined a boulder at the Apollo 17 Taurus-Littrow Valley lunar landing site in December 1972. Photo courtesy NASA.

Apollo 17’s Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, a geologist, stepped on the moon, joining  Eugene Cernan. The mission’s experiments included a lunar surface gravimeter to measure buried geological structures near the landing site. Schmitt returned with the largest lunar sample ever collected.

Schmitt, who had received a Ph.D. in geology from Harvard in 1964, was the first and last scientist on the moon, Cernan explained in a 2007 NASA oral history project. On December 14, Schmitt followed Cernan back into the Lunar Module. The geologist was the last of the 12 men who ever walked on the moon.

December 13, 1905 – Hybrids evolve with Gas Shortage Fears

Petroleum History December

An early hybrid, this 1902 Porsche used a gas engine to generate electricity to power motors mounted on the front wheel hubs.

“The available supply of gasoline, as is well known, is quite limited, and it behooves the farseeing men of the motor car industry to look for likely substitutes,” declared a 1905 article in the Horseless Age.

The popular monthly journal, first published in 1895, described the earliest motor technologies, including the use of compressed air propulsion systems, electric cars, steam and diesel power – as well as hybrids.

About the same time as the first American auto show in 1900, engineer Ferdinand Porsche introduced his “Mixte” in Europe. This gas-electric hybrid used a four-cylinder gasoline engine to generate electricity. The engine powered two three-horsepower electric motors mounted on the front wheel hubs. It could achieve a top speed of 50 mph.

December 13, 1931 – Oilfield discovered in Conroe, Texas

After many dry holes, independent oilman George Strake Sr. completed the South Texas Development Company No. 1 well eight miles southeast of Conroe, Texas, where he had leased 8,500 acres. By the end of 1932 the field was producing more than 65,000 of barrels of oil a day.

Disaster struck at the Conroe oilfield in 1933, when several wells collapsed into a burning crater of oil. The crisis came to an end thanks to relief wells drilled by George Failing and his newly patented truck-mounted drilling rig. Learn about him and other oilfield technologies in Technology and the Conroe Crater.

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___________________________________________________________________________________ Listen online to Remember When Wednesdays on the weekday morning radio show Exploring Energy from 9:05 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Executive Director Bruce Wells and Volunteer Contributing Editor Kris Wells call in on the last Wednesday of each month. Support our energy education mission with a contribution today. Contact [email protected] for membership information. © 2018 Bruce A. Wells.

The post This Week in Petroleum History, December 10 to December 16 appeared first on American Oil & Gas Historical Society.

Source: American Oil & Gas Historical Society

This Week in Petroleum History, December 3 to December 9

 

December 4, 1928 – First Oil Discovery using Reflection Seismography

Following successful tests in the early 1920s, reflection seismic technology was first used to find oil. The Petroleum Corporation drilled a well into the Viola limestone formation near Seminole, Oklahoma. It was the world’s first oil discovery in a geological structure that had been identified by reflection survey. Others soon followed as the technology revealed dozens of mid-continent oilfields.

Conducted by Amerada Petroleum subsidiary Geophysical Research, the new exploration method resulted from experiments by an academic team led by Professor John C. Karcher of the University of Oklahoma.

Reflection seismography – seismic surveying – applied techniques from weapons research. During World War I, Allied scientists developed portable equipment that used seismic reflections to locate sources of enemy artillery fire. Learn more in Exploring Seismic Waves.

December 4, 1928 – Giant Oklahoma City Oilfield discovered

petroleum history november

The Oklahoma City oilfield would bring stability to the economy of Oklahoma during the Great Depression. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Henry Foster’s Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company and Foster Petroleum Corporation completed the Oklahoma City No. 1 well, discovery well for the Oklahoma City oilfield. Oil exploration companies had searched for decades before this successful well just south of the city limits.

The 6,335-foot-deep wildcat well produced 110,000 barrels of oil in its first 27 days, causing a rush of development that extended the field northward toward the capitol building. Drilling reached the city limits in May 1930, prompting the city council to pass ordinances limiting drilling to the southeast part of the city and allowing only one well per city block.

By 1932, with about 870 producing wells completed, the Oklahoma City oilfield’s production peaked at 67 million barrels. “From such a beginning the sprawling Oklahoma City oil and natural gas field will become one of world’s major oil-producing areas,” notes a state historical marker. The field’s production ranked eighth in the nation for the next 40 years.

Another major discovery erupted in 1930 thanks to Oklahoma City’s highly prolific Wilcox sands. With blowout-preventer technology still evolving, extreme gas pressure at the Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company’s well resulted in a gusher. The well remained uncontrolled for 11 days – making it “the most publicized oil well in world.” Learn more about the World Famous “Wild Mary Sudik.” 

December 7, 1905 – Helium discovered in Natural Gas

december petroleum history

Professor Hamilton Cady in 1905 discovered helium could be extracted from natural gas from a well in Dexter, Kansas. Photo courtesy American Chemical Society.

The importance of natural gas for producing helium was revealed when two University of Kansas professors, Hamilton Cady and David McFarland, discovered significant amounts of helium in natural gas from a well in Dexter, Kansas. Helium was rare and considered a national strategic resource at the time.

In May 1903, the Gas, Oil and Developing Company had drilled a well at Dexter (45 miles southeast of Wichita) that produced “a howling gasser” from a depth of 560 feet. The well flowed about 9 million cubic feet of natural gas a day, and the town envisioned a prosperous future, until it was learned the gas would not burn due to its helium content. After finding helium’s association with natural gas, scientists predicted the element would no longer be rare, “but a common element, existing in goodly quantity for uses that are yet to be found for it.”

Although the Dexter well produced “The Gas That Wouldn’t Burn,” it led to a scientific advancement that lighted the way to a multi-million dollar industry, according to the American Chemical Society, which designated the discovery of helium in natural gas a national historic chemical landmark in 2000.

December 8, 1931 – New BOP patented

Improving upon the success of Cameron Iron Works’ 1922 mechanically operated ram-type blowout preventer (BOP), James S. Abercrombie patented a “Fluid Pressure Operated Blow Out Preventer” designed to be “operated instantaneously to prevent a blowout when an emergency arises.” After the success of the first ram-type BOP, the company’s machine shop in Humble, Texas, manufactured the latest rapidly reacting device in time for discoveries in the Oklahoma City oilfield. Many deeper, highly pressurized wells would require the new technology.

December 9, 1921 – Antiknock Leaded Gas invented

Petroleum History December

Leaded gas helped engines, but harmed people.

Two General Motors scientists discovered a gasoline additive that greatly improved engine performance. American motorists were soon saying, “Fill ‘er up with Ethyl!”

In early internal combustion engines, “knocking” resulted from the out-of-sequence detonations of the gasoline-air mixture in a cylinder. The shock frequently damaged the engine. After five years of lab work, G.M. researchers Thomas Midgely Jr. and Charles Kettering discovered the antiknock properties of tetraethyl lead.

The G.M. scientists examined the properties of knock suppressors such as bromine and iodine. When they used tetraethyl lead (diluted to a ratio of one part per thousand) in a one-cylinder engine, the knocking abruptly disappeared. The powerful additive proved vital during World War II, but tetraethyl lead’s serious health dangers resulted in its phase-out for use in cars beginning in 1976. Learn more in Ethyl “Anti-Knock” Gas. It is still used in aviation fuels.

December 9, 1924 – Bethel Oilfield adds to Oklahoma Drilling Boom

Another Oklahoma drilling boom began in the Seminole area following discovery of a giant oilfield. The Amerada Petroleum Company well uncovered the Bethel field and a new, highly prolific producing zone, the Wilcox sand. In October 1923, Joe Cromwell also had found a Seminole area oilfield with a well that produced more than 300 barrels of oil a day from about 3,500 feet deep. In March 1926, yet another discovery well opened the Earlsboro field, which was followed a few days days later by a well producing an astounding 1,100 barrels of oil a day from the Seminole City field. Learn more in Seminole Oil Boom.

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Listen online to Remember When Wednesdays on the weekday morning radio show Exploring Energy from 9:05 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Executive Director Bruce Wells and Volunteer Contributing Editor Kris Wells call in on the last Wednesday of each month. Support our energy education mission with a contribution today. Contact [email protected] for membership information. © 2018 Bruce A. Wells.

The post This Week in Petroleum History, December 3 to December 9 appeared first on American Oil & Gas Historical Society.

Source: American Oil & Gas Historical Society